Oddly enough, the two old Strange Tales features survived the shortest of the six new titles; both lasted only 15 issues before biting the dust. What happened? Well, like all the Marvel titles, they ran into the crunch of 1969. The inflation of the 1960s had resulted in higher costs for the publishers, and finally in late 1969, both DC and Marvel raised their prices to 15 cents. The timing was pretty awful, as the US economy was in recession as well, and the biggest chunk of the Baby Boom generation had reached the end of their prime comic-buying years. As with the 1961 increase, the result was an immediate decline in sales. Three pennies may not seem like a lot, but it was a 20% hike.
Because the former Strange Tales features were canceled, we do not know how it affected their sales, but we can judge by looking at some of the other Marvel books. Captain America lost 11% of his readers, while the Hulk was hit with a 6% decline. Thor shed 10% of sales, while the Avengers lost 13% and Sgt Fury 15%. The X-Men dropped 14% and Daredevil 16%. And when you consider that Marvel raised its prices relatively late in 1969's reporting period, the actual declines were probably higher than reported.
Still, all that was in the future as these two issues came out, and Marvel probably had high hopes for this title. The story starts out with Dr Strange in search of Clea, last seen being subjected to a spell of vanishment in Strange Tales #155. She had been vanished by the Ancient One in order to save her from the wrath of Umar, the sister of Dormammu. He learns where she is located via an apparition.
The Doc summons Victoria Bentley, who had become his regular companion following Clea's disappearance to help him find her. She's disappointed to learn that he only wants her help to bring back his old girlfriend:
wrote Jane Foster out of the Thor series with a similar sequence where she revealed her lack of valor under stress. Perhaps this is a trend at Marvel? After a few warm-up battles, the issue ends with the big reveal:
The second issue features a change in the artwork. Tom Palmer had done the pencils, with Dan Adkins on inks for #171 (Adkins had been working on the feature for about a year partly as a penciller and mostly doing both art chores). With #172 (and until the end of the series), Gene Colan took over. Marvel had struggled to find a worthy successor to Steve Ditko ever since he left the series in 1966; with Colan they found their answer:
Not to mention (with a little help from Clea and Victoria) his sister:
Comments: A beautiful series of books, ably written by Roy Thomas. Roy sprinkled lots of literary allusions throughout these stories. For example, the second issue is entitled I, Dormammu, an obvious reference to I, Claudius, the 1934 novel that was (in the 1970s) turned into a terrific PBS series.